Reclaiming innocence, with Ed Richwood
I don’t think I’m a creative person, the songs are there, somewhere, I just translate them. I don’t think I’m an artist in the sense people use that word. I just love music, and for some reason I hear songs that are nowhere, I just bring them here.Ed Richwood
Being unfamiliar with Ed Richwood would come as no surprise. And, it’s largely by design on account of him having spent many years locked away in a basement, somewhere in Berlin with a bunch of instruments, a bottle of open-mindedness, and a few sharp slices of imagination. A conscious decision by the Spanish multi-instrumentalist to escape mainstream influences, and allow himself the freedom to dial into his emotions.
Despite surfacing over a hundred songs releasing, ten albums and a constant outpouring of new material, Ed is unlike many other artists in that he isn’t chasing fame or fortune through music. He challenges the idea of being regarded as a ‘creative person’, prefers a small audience of like-minded people, and sees the act of making music more of a calling, allowing his songs to develop slowly through improvisation and solitude.
Having learned to play the guitar and piano from an early age, he devoted much of his youth to playing live gigs with various bands, and eventually went on to study at Berklee College Of Music.
In addition to being a skilled guitarist and pianist, Ed is also a talented drummer and possesses a vocal style likened to that of Chris Cornell, Jeff Buckley and Corey Taylor, skills he developed during his time at Berklee. The ‘90s grunge/ alt-rock influences shine though in recent albums such as ‘Nomads’ and ‘Atlantis’, yet producing rock music had not been his intention. Working through his back catalogue, you’ll discover an incredibly diverse collection, from guitar laden rock to the tantric meditative compositions heard in ‘Lucid Silence’ and ‘Yosemite’s Tales’. An incredible portfolio of sound which he has written, recorded and produced over the years singlehandedly. We managed to speak with Ed about his journey through music… let’s get into it.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Ed, really appreciated. We usually start off with some introductions so, for readers who may not have discovered your music, can you tell us a bit about you, and your background in music?
Thanks a lot for this opportunity. I’m an Spanish expat living in Berlin. I do a sort of grunge music (loud guitars, drums, screams, but a lot of melodic stuff too). I heard people saying that I sound like “Jeff Buckley meets Corey Taylor”, although most people say I resemble Chris Cornell in some way. I guess that’s flattering. I’m an independent musician. My goal with music is to keep having fun for the rest of my life.
I’m a big fan of grunge, and the ’90s Seattle vibe bleeding through in your more recent work is what drew me to you in the first place. Regarding the Chris Cornell reference, I had picked up on that. As a huge Cornell/ Soundgarden fan, I’m grateful for it. However, does it concern you that such comparisons are made, or do you see that more as a compliment?
I’m flattered. But when I hear myself singing, for example a Soundgarden song, I feel that I sound so different! Many people even say that I look a bit like Chris, which doesn’t make any sense to me (maybe the beard?). Chris was a great influence to me. But I feel very, very different, Our choices in many ways, musically speaking are so different. I’m flattered I guess for anyone who says that. I imagine that the high screaming thing is mostly it, that I understand it really resembles him, because I love his singing. And that stuff is not that common. But beyond that, I’m not sure what they mean when people say that. But I blush a bit.
Whilst we’re on the subject of Soundgarden… is there a particular track of theirs that you wish you’d written, and what it is about that song that appeals to you?
4th of July. I don’t know why, but that music triggers something very deep in me. It’s like some beautiful darkness, like the monolith in 2001 (the movie). I feel like a monkey discovering fire, my pupils dilate.
Regarding musical preferences, looking back over the years, are there any artists that have been unexpectedly influential for you? I’m thinking the kind of artists that might surprise your friends if they looked through your music collection.
Very good question. Well, I’m an avid jazz listener and even when I don’t know how but that must be influencing my music someway. Miles, Coltrane and I have obsessively listened to Bill Evans, probably is the artist that I have listened the most in my life.
I’ve seen some of your YouTube videos where the jazz influence is quite evident in your playing. I’d also read somewhere that you’d hidden yourself away for a few years in a Berliner basement to avoid mainstream influence and open yourself up to your own imagination. What prompted such a drastic approach to song-writing, and how has your approach changed (if at all) since then?
Many years ago I felt that playing live was taking away the innocence of my relation with music. All this music business stuff, bookers, money and I had a hard time with people treating me as I was someone (in a small scale). Laying in bed and listening to music, falling asleep and dreaming music, that what’s all about for me. I feel music as something very intimate, that’s why I never really toured. My approach to songwritting hasn’t changed much really. I don’t think I’m a creative person, the songs are there, somewhere, I just translate them. I don’t think I’m an artist in the sense people use that word. I just love music, and for some reason I hear songs that are nowhere, I just bring them here.
Aside from the ‘business’ side of being a gigging musician, is there a part of you that misses playing live shows with a band?
Definitely, the connection with people. But I have to say that for the past 15 years, I didn’t play live. I recorded 10 albums in my studio. Now is very different, I don’t feel like that. I don’t even care about myself much, about my fears or worries, I just enjoy playing. So when I was free, I locked myself in my basement, and now that there is a pandemic locking us, I started wanting to play live.
Does that mean you have plans to revisit the live scene, once Covid does the decent thing and leaves us all alone?
At the moment I’m just rehearsing on Twitch, hanging out with people and chatting. As of mid January of 2022 concerts are not happening here in Germany and I had to cancel the little things I had booked. So I will just wait, hanging out on Twitch… that feels good.
You mentioned ten albums recorded during your Berlin Basement years, each incredibly diverse. What factors influence the style or genre of music you create from one release to the next? Is it a conscious decision, or something that happens almost accidentally through experimentation?
I failed in every attempt of doing it on purpose. When I started this project I wanted to make electronic music. I wasn’t interested in rock. I find most rock bands from this century kind of uninteresting (with exceptions of course). But I failed. I turned out to be more of a therapy and then I saw only loud drums, distorted guitars and screams coming out of me unintentionally. I guess is the musical language that I’ve learned in my teenage hood, and it seems as I haven’t healed that still. So it comes out of me.
I feel that people may think I’m unoriginal for playing music that sounds like from 30 years ago, but I have no choice but to let it come out of me. Nevertheless there are a lot of different kinds of music in me, that I guess they will come out at some point. I listen 10 times more jazz than rock. But I can’t help it. So rock it is!
The point you make about how people perceive you is an interesting one. I know that you are less interested in notoriety, and “sharing the creative process with a reduced audience” is appealing to you. How do you define success, and what kind of reactions give you the greatest satisfaction when it comes to how your music is received?
For me music is about human connection. About connecting with people in the same emotional/experience frequency (music is all about frequencies). So, success is not necessarily about how many people are interested in what you are doing, but that is meaningful to someone. If just one person listen to a song and feels something real, beyond mediocrity, then all the energy, time, and work is worth it.
I know people with money, and their lives are full of unnecessary worries and complexities. All I know about people that are famous makes me feel pity for them. I love the power of being unknown. I can be myself easier. From time to time I get a very honest message of someone explaining me how my songs saved them or helped them through difficult moments. I think that is the real “payment” an artist gets.
Have there been any super challenging moment in your career where you’ve almost felt like giving up on music?
Many times, too many. When you feel frustrated you want an easy way out of the challenge. But I know myself enough to know that for me, life without music doesn’t make much sense. But most of the time is basically the contrary, there are so many things I would love to do and play, instruments, styles, roles, that I really wish I could live for 300 years and the days would have 50 hours.
I loved your short documentary ‘We Belong To Our Imagination’, and the whole walk through of your writing and recording process. It’s obviously an incredibly rewarding feeling to have written, recorded and produced a song (and you’ve done a lot of that)… aside from the initial exploration of your imagination, and once you’ve got the structure down, what do you find are the most enjoyable elements from that point forward when hitting the studio – and which parts are less exciting?
Thank you. Over time everything has become exciting. I learned to appreciate the challenge and where I used to have insecurity, now I have fun. Nevertheless there are moments in the process where suddenly the song starts manifesting and it is like when you complete a line in Tetris, and you feel some dopamine reward. For me that moments are arranging, drums and mastering. I used to hate writing lyrics, but now I learned to love it. It’s a great mental exercise. I think once I accepted I was really bad at it, I started improving. Once I realized that is not about fancy words, but to be honest, then I started really enjoying it.
The documentary was created at the time you were recording your album, ‘We Belong To Our Imagination’. I know you’re particularly proud of “I Am You” from this album, and wondered if you can talk about the meaning behind this song, and why it’s so special to you.
I’m not especially proud of the song itself, I’m proud of what happened with the song. I wrote this song after the terrorist attack in Bataclan, where some guy went into a concert in Paris and started shooting around with a machine gun. All violence is horrible, but for me, because of what the celebration of music means to me, that was exceptionally cruel, like the lowest level of what a human can be. So I asked myself the question “What would I say to that guy if I could talk to him right before the massacre?”, and I ended up trying to appeal to the connection we have to people around us, and that down deep inside we all know that we are the same awareness in different bodies someway. I wrote that song as a therapy for me, but it turned into a beautiful thing when young people in Muslim countries started reposing the song and I remember someone making even a translated lyric video because they wanted the message to reach more young Muslims. Isn’t that amazing? I really understand why John Lennon used music to reclaim humanity in this world, it’s probably the most meaningful use of music.
Aside from “I Am You”, which of the 100+ songs that you’ve written have the most significance for you? Are there any that are particularly sentimental, or stir strong emotion when you were writing them?
Oh yes, a lot of them. All of them are very personal, so they trigger something in me. The list is long. As an anecdote, I will never forget writing “Utah“, the song in the documentary. It’s a song about native Americans and the lost splendor of their culture. I don’t have any direct link to it, except for my imagination, but while writing the song I had to lay on the floor a few times to calm myself because I couldn’t stop crying. I don’t understand why.
It seems you’re constantly working on new material – where does this motivation come from, and do you ever experience creative blocks, or is that just not a ‘thing’ for you?
I don’t have creative blocks because I don’t consider myself a creator. I’m a vessel, so my only job is to be clean of bullshit so whatever it is happens through me. I have one album and a half waiting to be published, but I don’t want to overload listeners. I would record more if I had the time.
You have your own studio where most of your songs come to life – aside from guitars, drums and other instruments, what are the most critical bits of equipment you own which you couldn’t you live without?
The computer is the pan and the fire. But I’m very punk with gear, meaning that I don’t care much about it. The music is in my head.
You can be found on the usual music streaming platforms, but you’re also embracing other platforms such as Patreon and Twitch to get your music out there. How has this worked out for you, and which would you say has been the most useful, or rewarding approach to reaching new audiences as an independent artist?
No big break so far. Although I’m very satisfied and I feel that I’m doing what I should be doing. I want to be a really good musician and I want to deserve to be listened. I’m to busy working on that, and now having a little kid even more, to go around promoting my music. I do try to post consistently and have certain communication with people, like on Twitch, but I don’t do much about it. Maybe I should. I want Matt Cameron and Kim Tahil to ask me to record with them. So I have a lot of work to do to get there!
What can we expect next from Ed Richwood… are there any new releases on the way that we can look forward to?
Yes, as I mentioned I’m sitting on a bunch of songs already because I don’t know what to do with them. I don’t want to just cold publish another album on Spotify. But if anyone reading this wants to listen to it, just write me an email.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention that we’ve not covered – any shout outs?
My project now is to bring my music live to people. I’ve never really toured, I used to hate gigs. Music is something very intimate for me. But things have changed, I’m rehearsing at the moment, but I’m streaming that process on Twitch, so if anyone wants to come by, say hi or request a song please do it.
So as my head is right now on Twitch I keep in mind all my musician friends who are supporting me on Twitch, amazing loving people: Matt Suarez, Phil Smyth, Lizz Vega, Alan Thompson, Tor Ludvig, Raggy Singh…the list goes on!